Tips for preparing video for live playback

A lot of the info on this site relates to live camera work, but playing back video clips is a very common requirement for VLOBLIVE events, and there are quite a few things you can do to make this work better…

Here are some basic tips to get the best out of any playback clips:

  • Review any clips that you are not preparing yourself BEFORE the event, so there is time to change them. Don’t assume that everything is fine.
  • Use the best playback format you can. In order of quality for normal ‘prosumer’ formats this would be Digital Video tape (DVCAM, miniDV, DVCPro etc), then DVD (or MPEG2 video on PC/Mac), then S-VHS, then normal VHS, then SVCD (or MPEG1 playback on PC/Mac).
  • If it is possible put all the clips on the same tape or DVD and put them in the correct order. There is nothing worse than hunting around for a mislaid tape, or rewinding through a tape to find the right place while under pressure. Having one tape with only the bits you need, in the right order is a big help.
  • ALWAYS make backup media (ideally on a different format) and bring it to the gig in a different way (e.g. put tape in your rucksack and DVD in your toolbox or whatever). This makes sure that if a forklift runs over your rucksack, you can still do the show, albeit without your sandwiches!
  • On video tapes ALWAYS enable the record protect tab as soon as you have recorded them. This prevents overwriting tapes by mistake.
  • Put black video before and after your clips for 10 secs. minimum. This ensures that if you are a bit slow to switch away from the tape, you don’t suddenly get a big blue screen, or worse, your holiday video that you taped over!!
  • Make life easy for the PA guy and add audio fades at the start and end if necessary. This prevents big glitches and pops on the PA system which are very embarassing.
  • Watch the audio levels if going to analogue tape – they should be peaking at -6dBFS digital as a maximum.
  • If you are burning DVDs, use the ‘best quality’ setting you can find. Space is not going to be an issue, as all the clips are likely to be short, and you want to avoid compression artefacts.
  • For video tapes add a countdown to tape. You know the 8..7..6..5..4.. thing that you see at the start of movie clips. This may sound naff, but for cueing up tape is a lot easier when you have a proper countdown that drops out at 2 and let’s you accurately cue on black. You can find an example one here. Stop the tape at ‘5’ and then just before the clip is due to show, you hit play and let it run to ‘2’ then pause at the invisible ‘1’. Then when it’s the cue to play the tape, you can unpause and know you have 1 second to fade up the right input on the mixer before the clip starts showing.
  • If you have colour correction facilities in your NLE, Adjust blacklevel and midtones on your video clips to give a good histogram of exposure. This can make a big difference to the brightness of video clips, especially at VLOBLIVE gigs where you may be struggling for lumens.
  • Add a tech title before the countdown, so whoever is playing it in knows they are playing in the right clip. Always say what the duration is, what the audio is, and ideally what the first frame and the last frame are, so folk know what to expect. Also it’s a good idea to say if the audio starts BEFORE the video, so the operator can warn the PA guy.
  • If possible try it out all clips on the projector you will end up using. this will ensure that you can get the brightness levels right. if you can’t do this, then play them back on a TV or monitor with the brightness control turned up a bit and the contrast control turned down a bit (to simulate a lower contrast ratio on the projector)

OK, this might seem like a chore, but even using some of these tips could make a big difference to the impact of your video clips at a VLOBLIVE gig.

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